As many ruminate over the cause of the recent history behind the North American lime shortage, many are believing in accusations that trace all the way down south to the world’s leading manufacturer of the little green citrus fruit. Mexico’s central state of Michoacan currently finds itself in the midst of a violent conflict between local self-defense armies and the dangerous Knights Templar cartel. According to reports and interviews from local farmers the feud is a direct result of the cartel’s forceful infiltration into their plantation businesses. They have raised arms against the cartel as a means of protecting their land, their product, and most importantly their families. Many curious about the recent, drastic lime crisis have surmised that there is a direct link to the vigilantes’ rebellion.
The U.S. lime supply is increasingly dependent on Mexico, receiving more than 95 percent of the fruit from the southern neighbor, and since consumer taste for the particular citrus has increased, the fruit’s shortage is particularly more noticeable. Many bars and restaurants have felt the impact of the lime crisis as prices for the citrus has sky-rocketed from $14 a case to over $100. Local markets that sold three for $1 are now charging $1 or more per fruit. If the exorbitant price hike was not concern enough, the limes that are making it to the states, are teeny, hard, and spotty–an overall sub par product. Heavy rain storms last fall and a rampant bacterial fruit tree disease called huanglongbing have burdened the area and were first suspected to be the initial cause for the shortage. Now rumors have emerged that cartels in the area began strong-arming farmers into paying excessively high extortion taxes on the product, which have halted lime exportation.
Members from the Knights Templar cartel have threatened the farmers in Michoacan for a long time, but recently they have begun hijacking export trucks exiting the borders of Michoacan, demanding the farmers pay them extortion fees, which was an impetus for the farmers of the the world’s leading lime export state to unite and protect their livelihoods. However, there are residents who are strongly against the presence of the vigilantes, despite their position on the lime crisis. The rebellion groups have set up barricades and checkpoints at various locations heading in and out of Michoacan. At times, they have disarmed police forces in fear they were working with the cartel. There have been several deaths as a result of the violence, and townspeople fear for their young men who they claim are being forced to join in the “self-defense” mission. As a retaliation against the vigilantes, a series of trucks were set on fire, blocking entrance into and out of the the area. There have been conflicting reports that the trucks were set on fire by the residents in the area as a reaction against the vigilantes and that the trucks were set ablaze by the cartels.
According to Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales from Vision Import Group, a business that provides global grower partnerships, speculation of the lime crisis’ connection with the vigilantes and cartels is a completely sensationalized angle. He says people are simply looking for a “sexy story.” “The reality is that it’s a none effect. This is strictly a weather-related event – natural supply and demand.” He contends that the lime price spike should come back down by early summer. He claims that inconsistency in the fruit’s size and appearance, however, may be around for a while. Because of supply pressure, growers are harvesting the fruit even though it is lesser quality, because they can get a higher price point for it. If they leave it on the branch and harvest it in a few months, it may be larger and juicier, but they will get a lower price for the product.
Inconsistency in reports regarding Mexican cartels should not be a revelation to anyone, and often supposed facts are generated from unsubstantiated sources. It may be without a doubt that Michoacan farmers have suffered at the hands of the illegitimate regime, but it is also rumored that their rebellion forces may not be as clean as they propose. Some say that the supposed self-defense renegades have been penetrated by the New Generation cartel or that the Knight Templar cartel is using the vigilantes as a cover for illegal enterprises. Since New Generation has been engaged in a turf war with the Michoacan-based Knights Templar cartel for some time, it would be easy to suspect their infiltration in the crisis, but the homespun vigilantes and lime farmers have vehemently denied the accusations, standing firm they have made the decision to join forces and fight against the cartels for their families. In the farmers defense, by joining forces, more than a dozen towns have been able to keep away the cartels which have been threatening them for years.
Opinion by Stacy Feder